By Marge Woodfin
Pilot Staff Writer
Gregory Arthur Hoenshell, 22, pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of aggravated murder in the killing of his grandparents, Edward and Dorothy Hoenshell, of Brookings.
Hoenshell, who was originally charged with 10 counts in connection with the killings, will not face the death penalty as a result of the plea agreement. He will spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The bodies of Edward and Dorothy Hoenshell were discovered April 9, 2001, by a Brookings real estate agent entering their home at 717 Fourth Street.
Hoenshell was captured a short time later by authorities in Crescent City and charged with unrelated California warrants. He was extradited to Curry County for trial after serving about six months in a California prison.
On Thursday, Hoenshell was escorted by officers to the Curry County courtroom, which was guarded by officers from the Brookings Police Department, Curry County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police.
Before the proceedings began, defense attorney Gerald K. Petersen placed an arm around Hoenshell's shoulders and spoke quietly into his ear.
The young man, whose arms are covered with tattoos remained unemotional, answering questions with a quiet, "Yeah," except for a short conversation with his birth mother after sentence was pronounced.
When Curry County Judge Hugh C. Downer convened the court Thursday for the scheduled pretrial hearing, Oregon Assistant Attorney General Steven Briggs told the judge an agreement had been reached. Hoenshell, Briggs said, would plead guilty to two counts of aggravated murder and the state would drop the remaining charges, including three counts of felon in possession of a firearm, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and theft.
Briggs also said the state has agreed not to seek the death penalty and Hoenshell has agreed to the stipulated sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole.
He also told the court there will be no costs charged to Hoenshell since he has no means to pay and faces the certainty of life in prison.
Downer noted two outstanding probation violation charges against Hoenshell and was told that those charges would also be dismissed.
"Mr. Hoenshell, you've heard the statements of the attorneys," the judge told the defendant. "I need to make sure you understand what you have agreed to."
Downer then told Hoenshell that with his guilty plea he was agreeing that he killed Edward and Dorothy Hoenshell with a firearm.
The judge explained that committing two murders in the same criminal episode constitutes aggravated murder, which can result in the death penalty.
Downer carefully explained to Hoenshell the rights he was giving up by entering the guilty plea, including the right to remain silent, the right to a jury trial, and the right to face his accusers.
The judge then again asked him, on count one, "did you shoot Edward Hoenshell with a gun on April 9, 2001," to which Hoenshell responded, "Yeah.'" He gave the same response to the same question about his grandmother.
The judge also asked Hoenshell if he understood that under the stipulated sentence he would not be entitled to any work release or other special programs, to which he again responded, "Yeah."
Hoenshell was then told to raise his right hand and swear that to the best of his knowledge and belief the statements made were true.
He was told that he was also agreeing that he will not pursue any appeal. Petersen then said, "I don't think we can bar his right to appeal."
Judge Downer agreed, but said if he did appeal the district attorney would then have the right to again pursue the case and seek the death penalty.
"Do you understand that the statements you made today are confessions and could be used to establish your guilt, do you understand," Judge Downer asked, and received the same answer, "Yeah."
When asked if he was satisfied with the quality of Mr. Petersen's representation, Hoenshell responded, "He did a good job."
The judge then said, "The guilty pleas are accepted on count one and count two.
Hoenshell waived the right to wait 48 hours for sentencing.
Briggs then told the court that on April 9, 2001, Hoenshell broke into his grandfather's gun cabinet and stole guns, and after shooting both grandparents, stole $50 and drove their car to Crescent City where he used the $50 to purchase methamphetamine.
When the car ran out of gas he spent the night sleeping in the car and was subsequently apprehended by Del Norte County authorities.
Following his sentencing Thursday, family members were allowed to make statements. Many expressed grief over the loss of their loving family members, brother, sister, father, mother, or grandparents.
A grandson told Hoenshell tearfully that he had robbed him of his grandparents and said, "You think you've got it bad...You get three meals a day and sit there and rot away."
Statement from family members were read by Stacey Randolph, Victims' Assistance, and Briggs. One statement told Hoenshell that he stands alone before God and acted out of selfish greed, but "Jesus Christ has no limits to His love...and you won't have to enter jail alone."
Hoenshell appeared to lose his cool demeanor when his birth mother approached him in the courtroom. In an almost inaudible voice she told him she would visit him and he was not alone.
When she said, "I love you," he broke down and, in tears, responded "I love you too."
Before pronouncing sentence Judge Downer asked Hoenshell if he had anything to say and he responded that, for what it is was worth, he was sorry.
Briggs remained in the courtroom following the removal of the defendant to answer question from family members.
As he left the courtroom Briggs said local law enforcement personnel had done an outstanding job in the murder investigation.
The investigation was conducted by the Curry County major Crime Team led by Brookings Police Detective John Bishop, with assistance from Oregon State Police. Bishop said he wanted to thank the other law enforcement agencies that helped with the investigation and said that the cooperation had been wonderful.
A difficult part of the investigation was recovering the stolen guns, with the murder weapon, a .22 rifle the most difficult to find. A Del Norte County woman, who had purchased the gun from Hoenshell, turned it in through her attorney.
Curry County District Attorney Charles Steak, who worked with Briggs on the prosecution, said he thought the woman had been encouraged to produce the weapon by Crime Stoppers.